New Soviet Russian Greatness vs. New Western Russia (1991-1993)

According to Hopf, four different discourses sought to dominate Russia’s cognitive landscape in the early 1990s. The first two, the New Western Russia (NWR) and the New Soviet Russia, explicitly adopted an identity defined in relation to the External Other of the West and the Historical Other of the Soviet Union respectively. The third discourse, the Liberal Essentialist (LE), rejected both the Western present and Soviet past as the authentic Russian nature, instead finding in Russia, the West, and the East elements that together might constitute Russia’s genuine identity. The fourth discourse, the Liberal Relativist (LR), rejected all identity projects as modern—their fixity, their homogenisation, their conviction that that there was an essential authentic Russian to be found out there somewhere—in effect equating both the Western and Soviet modernities as noxious to life as lived.1

In the early 1990s, the main conflict was taking place between the NSR and NWR discourses. In this section I will focus on the New Western Russia discourse. I draw on Hopf’s work to highlight differences and will add some of my own analysis to show similarities, which provided certain continuity in the Russian-European security interaction in the region. My main argument challenges the existing convention that Russian foreign policy—shaped by Western Russia discourse—was excessively proAmerican and eventually sought to accommodate to various demands coming from Washington. Even though Hopf is right in saying that New Western Russia discourse identified Russia most closely with the United States, this does not mean that the idea of Europe did not matter at all. For a start, I will show that though the New Western Russia discourse valued US markets and democracy, the role of Europe was still important for “allegedly pro-American” foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev. I will also show that the course of Russian foreign policy was driven by the same practical element of great power identity—the desire to change the fates of nations in the Black Sea region and the Balkans. Representations of European actors depended on whether they were prepared to recognise the legitimacy of Russia’s right to claim such an image of itself and policies associated with it.

Contrary to what Kozyrev’s doctrine is usually taken to suggest, close scrutiny of the discourse and policy reveals that Russia never gave up its pursuit of great power status. In fact, allegedly pro-American foreign minister Kozyrev followed the line of his Soviet predecessors and construed the collapse of the Soviet Union as a failure of the local elite, which could not properly use the exceptionality of its unique people, had wasted its sacrifices, and lost the battle for its own country. Most of the references to Great Power(hood) in the period of 1991-1993 appear in the context of a nostalgic rhetoric about the “lost”, “destroyed”, or “humiliated” power, and sometimes had even more negative connotations.2 Kozyrev also built the identity of new Russia on the contraposition between Wasted Self-Sacrifice and a new Greatness. The False Soviet Greatness is criminalised when placed on the negative side of contrasting features of Soviet reality, such as the territorial vastness of the Soviet Union vs. the low quality of life of Russians, Soviet military might vs. extremely high child mortality, Soviet industrialisation vs. its environmental catastrophes, and the prestige of the Soviet Union vs. the moral degradation of Soviet society. Thus the main theme of the alternative discourse of Greatness proposed by the new Russian government claimed that “the Greatness of a country on the eve of the twenty-first century is defined not by the scale of its empire, but by the level of prosperity of its people”.3

Although this discourse of greatness was quite different from that of Soviet greatness, Kozyrev also used the idea of Europe as the representation of this new true type of Greatness. In the case of the New Western Russia discourse, Russia had to adapt to its main Other, i.e., Europe. This option was implied by Kozyrev when he asked a rhetorical question about who has more reasons to be proud of his country, a Swiss or a Russian, or when he quoted General Charles de Gaulle as saying that he would be happy only when every Frenchwoman returned from the market cheerful and smiling. Using France as a reference point, Kozyrev defined Russia’s foreign policy mission in unconventional terms and language by asserting “the Russian Foreign Ministry will feel it has accomplished a useful mission when Russian women stop spending hours in queues preoccupied with how to feed their families, but when, instead, they will please Russian men with their charms”.4

This contraposition was often interpreted as an argument for devising more accommodating policies for new Russian elite. Kozyrev’s rhetoric should be more precisely interpreted as a call for a more rational use of Russia’s resources. In the international arena, the liberal elite pursued the same great power practices and was not so different from its Soviet predecessors. First, like its Soviet predecessors, the New Western Russia discourse stressed the exceptionality of the Russian people because they were ready to sacrifice their lives for their beliefs and thus deserved a better life.5 The difference rested only in the fact that Soviet Greatness used this exceptionality as a justification to claim Greatness through the control over the former Soviet territories, whereas the Russian Greatness discourse used it in order to claim authority to conduct its own reforms. Second, the liberal discourse of international politics drew on its Soviet-Marxist predecessor when making numerous similar references to the organicist perspective of international relations. In his other work, Kozyrev again resorted to the same organicist and positivist paradigm when he described liberal values, such as “an individual with his lofty idealism and prosaic materialism as universal laws governing the nature of emerging civilization and as the main actor in the historical process”.6 As with his Soviet predecessors, Kozyrev portrayed liberal ideology as a return to common sense and to the world. Following the logic of a return to common sense, liberals were trying to undermine Soviet-nostalgic opponents by using the same Soviet signif- iers in presenting their opponents’ positions as something criminal or pathological, referring to their critics as “red-brown fuehrers”, “brown banners”, locked within “imperial thinking”, and so on.

Third, although in domestic politics Kozyrev advocated Russia’s adaptation to the Other (internal reforms according to US values and European standards), in international politics, he applied the same essen- tialist, objectivist logic to substantiate a claim for Russia to play a special role in international relations. For example, according to Kozyrev, “the principle of equality in international relations did not remove from Russia the special responsibility which was bestowed on it by history”.7 As with the Soviet discourse, Izvestia sought recognition from Europe by repeatedly publishing quotations from articles and opinion pieces by European politicians, such as John Major and Douglas Hurd, who stressed that Russia was the most natural and legitimate successor of the now defunct Soviet power, that Russia rightfully sat on the UN Security Council, and that Russia should stick firmly to all the obligations that the USSR had undertaken.

As antagonistic as it was to its Soviet predecessor, the New Western Russia discourse purported to justify the claim for Russia’s greatness and a special role in the international system. In particular, inter-ethnic conflicts and their resolution remained great power practices in the discourse. It is indicative that although China and Japan were not usually mentioned as great powers by Izvestia, the paper suddenly described them as Great Powers when both joined negotiations on a Middle East settlement.8 Hence it comes as no surprise that even though Kozyrev rejected any allusion to Russia’s great power claims, he nevertheless insisted that, to preserve its authority, Russia would have to take part in the efforts of the international community in resolving inter-ethnic conflicts in Tajikistan, Abkhazia, the Balkans, and Somalia.9 Although those conflicts were different in nature and took place in different regions, they constituted those contexts in which Russia could exercise its great power role—to change the fates of nations.

When it came to representations, the theory seemed to be that interethnic conflicts could constitute the greater threat of collective barbar- ianism against which Europe and Russia would stand together. As sometimes happened before, when Russia and Europe had faced a greater threat and engaged in a partnership on equal terms, in the 1990s New Western Russia sought to engage with Europe in the common front against the greater threat of extreme ethno-nationalism. In the framework of this partnership and given the gravity of the challenge, the gap between the “civility” of Europe and the “undercivilised” status of Russia would become less relevant. As much as their outlooks might differ, both New Soviet Russia and New Western Russia saw the inter-ethnic conflicts in the Balkans and the Black Sea region as the context in which Russia and European power could engage into mutually reassuring interaction. They also provided a way for Russia to sustain its rightful belonging to the club of great powers. The New Soviet Russia saw the inter-ethnic conflicts in the Black Sea region and the Balkans as the next battlefield where the West was trying to destroy Russia’s Greatness. Therefore, great power practices included two types of interaction, the use of military force and coercive diplomacy.10 However, the supporters of New Western Russia discourse perceived conflicts as an opportunity to join the club of Great Powers. The New Western Russia saw a traditional concert of great powers, i.e. multilateral conferences, as the main great power practice. This could be seen in Russia’s behaviour during the conflicts in the Balkans and the Black Sea region.

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